tv Democracy Now LINKTV February 22, 2013 3:00pm-4:00pm PST
funding for this program was provided by... for a thousand years or more, the tanners of morocco have sorted, processed and sold the skins of animals. their leather-making skill is world renowned. archaeologists now believe such economic specialization here and elsewhere evolved over thousands of years. they are studying the evolution of specialization as they uncover details of ancient economies around the world. in the maya city of copan,
a jeweler fashioned rare shell and jade for his powerful lord. in mexico, living artisans echo the economy of a vanished civilization. and in teotihuacan, evidence of mass production has now been unearthed. tiny faces of clay reflect the men and women who made them a thousand years ago. on the other side of the world, in the ancient roman city of ostia, huge merchant ships were part of an economy much like our own. and today, the tanners of morocco still practice their ancient craft, living proof that economies have evolved out of the past.
everyone who has ever lived has been part of an economic system. iel bote grande...mil pesos! economic systems are simply the ways people produce, distribute and consume things -- everything and anything, from tortillas to stocks and bonds. for 10,000, 10,000 an eighth. today, as in the past, economic systems lie at the heart
of how a society is organized. archaeologists search for these systems because they believe economies hold the key to understanding ancient societies. archaeologist william sanders. the economy of any given human group, any culture, is a powerful factor that affects the rest of that culture -- the social organization, the political institutions, even the ideology, the religion of a people. from my perspective, the economy of a group is one of the most powerful determinants of human behavior. keach: to archaeologists, all economies fall somewhere on a spectrum from simple to complex. in a simple economy, people grow or gather all the food they eat. they make all the things they use. households in such simple economies are almost completely self-sufficient. at the other end of the spectrum are highly complex economies
in which people specialize in one particular job, like these shoe salesmen in morocco. specialization means people are no longer self-sufficient, but depend on each other. the shoe salesmen are dependent on the shoemakers, and the shoemakers are dependent on the tanners, and so on. this dependence on others makes society in general more complex, so specialization is a measure of society's overall complexity. archaeologists find evidence of specialization everywhere -- in the buildings and sculpture of ancient cities, and in crafts like elegant jade earrings, decorated pottery and even skulls with jade inlays in their teeth.
these craft items were all made by specialists who worked at the ancient maya city of copan. between a.d. 400 and 800, this magnificent city flourished as one of the major centers of maya art and culture. copan was built in a broad mountain valley on the western border of honduras. at its height, the economic system of the copan kingdom supported a population of some 27,000 people. a tiny percentage of them were the nobility, the elite of maya society. they were the ones for whom the fine objects were made. to better understand the economy of copan,
archaeologists must discover who made these beautiful objects and how the elites acquired them. no one knew the answers until it was discovered that a catastrophe had occurred here a thousand years ago. [ rumbling ] for the maya, the earthquake was a calamity. but for archaeologist dolph widmer, it was an opportunity. when the roof collapsed, it did something wonderful. it collected for us, in place, in the place that they were originally used, a whole series of artifacts and tools. and these were found right here in this room. this room has sealed underneath this collapsed roof the first evidence we've ever found of the production of elite craft items -- items such as shell, jade, other exotic materials.
on this bench we found three ceramic vessels, and the vessel over here had a quiver of tools in it. we found bone tools and chisels. also, we found numerous other artifacts in their original places, just like they were being used. and this "pompeii effect," if you want to call it, is very exciting to us. for the first time we had, captured and preserved right before us, a mayan artisan workshop. keach: in the workshop were 10 obsidian saw blades. obsidian is a natural volcanic glass. the artisans would have used the blades to cut and saw. i suspect that saws were taken and mounted into a handle something like this. one of the problems with obsidian is that it's very sharp, but it's very brittle and it needs support. keach: the blades would have been used together with this stone which functioned as a cutting platform. and thmaya used this piece of deer antler
to drill holes. what an artisan would do is place a little bit of sand in a slurry on a spot of bone, take it and start to perforate it. keach: the drills would have made holes for the jade in these teeth. but one item uncovered had far more significance than mere decoration. widmer: this is a star gorget. it was produced from a marine conch or whelk which was imported from the gulf coast. and it's a very special artifact among the maya. i think -- of course, i'm biased, but it's probably the most spectacular artifact that's yet been found. but let me tell you where my bias lies. this is the symbol of the powatun or the bacabs. these are the gods of the underworld. keach: bacabs and powatuns were the maya gods who held up the earth and the sky. they were also the patrons of scribes. bacabs wearing a star were found carved on a throne in a large house near the workshop.
the house belonged to an important noble thought to have been a scribe. was the star being made for him ? the artisan's workshop is right next door to the house of the noble. was there some kind of relationship between the two ? there were not yet enough clues until preparations began for the reconstruction of the workshop, directed by project architect rudy larios. when larios began digging into the foundation, he made a startling discovery. interpreter: on dismantling the wall, we quickly found some stones that appeared very strange, and a small slope in the west part of the room. when we investigated further, we found this. keach: larios had discovered a hidden tomb beneath the artisan's workshop. the tomb had been reused at various times,
and several bodies were discovered, one on top of the other. the skeletons were removed from the tomb and taken to the laboratory at copan. they were analyzed by physical anthropologist rebecca storey. there were actually five people buried in what was a very large, stone-lined tomb with capstones and everything. and it actually had two chambers. and three people were in one of the chambers, and two were in the other. now, the interesting one i have here is the last one, the very last one placed on top. now, we do know that this individual was an active individual because of his bones. for example, here is one of the humerus or upper arm bone right here -- it comes from right here. the bones of your skeleton have rough places and crests where your muscles and ligaments attach. of course, as you use those muscles, you very often get a corresponding development upon the crests of the bone.
keach: crests grow when the muscles attached to them are used. enlarged crests of the arm bone indicate frequent arm movements like those used by an artisan. but this skeleton had a greater story to tell. the shape of the skull has been intentionally deformed. the forehead has been pushed back. this is the shape of a normal skull compared with the skull found in the tomb. the deformed skull tells storey that this person was not just a humble artisan, but could have been someone of noble rank. this head deformation had to be done when you are a baby, or else you will injure the brain as it grows. therefore, a newborn has to have their head tied. and they tying probably lasts about a couple of years to get this effect. now, this at copan is a mark of rank. only nobles or elites have this kind of head deformation. and obviously it was a lifelong -- people could tell that you were born an elite
because of the shape of your head. so there was almost no way, as it were, to pass for an elite in classic maya society, because if your head wasn't right, everybody knew you had not been born a noble. keach: so the artisan himself is a member of copan's elite, the same class as the noble for whom he is working, and he lives in a residence compound dominated by the noble. the compound is laid out as groups of houses, each around its own courtyard or patio. this is the location of the workshop. the patios are interconnected, and focus on the main patio and the house of the noble. the noble is the head of the compound. he is the patron of everyone living here. david webster is the archaeologist who excavated much of the noble's house. this man probably had about 200 to 300 people who were dependent on him in some way, including his wives, his brothers,
his political retainers, his economic specialists, living in this patio group and the other patio groups. they're buried here. there are about 250 or 300 burials here. which are the people who were his dependents. and essentially what this is is an elaborate household. keach: the maya noble could support his household because he controlled the rich farmland surrounding the compound. the land was so fertile it could produce a surplus which fed the noble's dependents, including specialists like the artisan, who were not themselves farmers. this was the basis of the economic system of the elites in ancient copan. for the noble, the system worked well. the more dependents he controlled, the more powerful he appeared. but the system also created a problem. what was he to do with such a large family of elites ?
i suspect that one of the things is what do you do with these people ? these people are too noble, they're too elite, they have too high a social position to be menial farmers. so what you do is you provide them with elite patios and you have them be your priests, you have them be your artisans, you have them be your tailors that make your costumes and your feather work. and that's what we see in this patio. that's what we have here. keach: so the lord supports his extended household, and in return, they produce goods exclusively for him. this is specialization, but not one based on buying and selling. it was a closed economic relationship, so limited to a family that it had little effect on the economy of the larger community. but what about the larger community ? ordinary people living outside the urban center -- people who would never have access to jade and rare sea shells -- what of their economy ?
archaeologists begin their search not where the common people live, but here in the neighborhood of the elite. this is an excavation of an elite compound organized by david webster and william sanders. the tomb she found on the other building was right along the front of the terrace. keach: from sculptures just uncovered, they suspect the leader of this family was another powerful lord. i'm standing in the courtyard of a residential compound of a classic maya noble. there are about 45 of these compounds up and down the valley -- the sort of middle class of ancient classic maya society here. behind me are two buildings. the one on the right, we're almost certain is a residence, perhaps of the lord of this compound. and then the one on the left, the bigger one over there, most probably is a temple, perhaps his funerary temple. but what we're going to do now is look at a pile of trash behind the building here. keach: sanders and webster have just uncovered a midden --
typical maya garbage dumped outside of what was presumably the kitchen. for sanders, one item in this trash raises important questions about the economic system of copan. sanders: this is a piece of a metate here. this is the basic milling stone that the ancient maya used to grind corn on. they would boil the corn in those pots, and then they would put it on the metate, and then they would take a rolling-pin-shaped piece of stone like this. and the woman would grind the boiled corn up and down like that until she made it into a dough. and of course, the dough would be used to make tortillas. keach: metates are still in common use all over mesoamerica, by rich and poor alike. there were so many metates in ancient copan that some people today are using ones that are a thousand years old, which they just found lying on the ground. sanders: if you look at this one closely, you'll notice how thin it is here.
that's because the metate has gotten very worn. and from that constant grinding on the surface, they get thinner and thinner in the center. then finally they snap in half, which is what's happened here. there's no evidence that any of these objects were manufactured here. and so a fundamental question that we're trying to answer in the copan project is who made these objects, and how did the consumers down here on the valley floor get them ? keach: a survey team led by eloisa aguilar heads off across the rio copan. aguilar is a honduran archaeologist working with sanders. today the team is searching for the quarry from which the ancient metate stones were extracted. they know most of the metates were made of a stone called rhyolite. aguilar believes that stones from some upstream source would be washed down during the high water season. so if she can find rhyolite here where the streams empty into the rio copan, then perhaps one of the streams will lead her
to an ancient quarry. the team surveys 17 streams, and discovers a heavy concentration of rhyolite in four of them. aguilar decides to follow one of the streams called the petapilla. aquí nos han encontrados unas afloramientos de.... interpreter: we found some outcrops of rhyolite, and we are going to take some samples
and take them to the laboratory to run an analysis on the elements they contain. keach: the laboratory later confirmed aguilar's suspicions. the rhyolite from the petapilla quarry is indeed the very same rhyolite from which half of copan's metates were made, including those found at the noble lord's compound. with the quarry found, the question now becomes where were the metates made, and who made them ? archaeological surveys of the copan valley identified 1,400 ancient house compounds. more than two-thirds of them were located outside the urban core. sanders knew several of these were located near the quarry, so he decided to excavate two of them. on an isolated hillside far from the elite neighborhoods of copan, the team began work at a site they called petapilla, the name of the nearby stream.
archaeologists think that most of the people who lived here were probably farmers struggling to survive on poor land. the houses they built here were hardly impressive, just a row or two of stones as a foundation for what were probably pole and thatch houses. but something unusual was going on here because as the workers scraped away dirt from the floor of the compound's main house, pieces of metates and manos began popping up everywhere. in all, the team collected more than 400 fragments of manos and metates. but these were not like the broken ones usually found in maya trash. sanders: one of the interesting things about the metates that we found in petapilla is that at least half of them show no signs of wear at all. some of them are blanks that were never finished. perhaps they were broken
during the process of manufacturing them. others are complete, but for some reason never left the point of manufacture. they never were distributed to whoever the consumers were. here's an example of what i'm talking about. this is a piece of a metate, but that surface is completely rough. it's never been ground by the action of a mano on its surface. over here is what looks like a partly processed mano. which was not carried all they way down to the completion of the work. it's much too big and too massive. here's one that's just like it, except that it's fully manufactured. it's down to the level that it can be used. and if you'll look at it, you can see that all of the surface is roughed. it has not been ground against the surface of a metate yet. and so we have this interesting situation in both of these groups out there at petapilla where half the metates we found were unused. the other half were metates that they probably have made themselves but then they used in their ordinary household activities.
keach: so sanders has found his metate makers, but what can they tell him about the economy of the ancient people ? on the spectrum from simple to complex, where might their system fall ? he still does not know the answers to a number of important questions. how were metates made, and who distributed them ? could these people have earned a living making metates ? no matter how much information they recover in an excavation, archaeologists never see an entire picture. from fragments of information they must try to reconstruct the past. to help fill in the missing pieces, archaeologists sometimes turn to living cultures to seek analogies for how things might have been done in the past. these men are called metateros, metate makers.
they extract stone from quarries just outside of their village, san juan teitipac in mexico. the process has not changed much in a thousand years, except for a few modern conveniences. these metateros use steel picks. their counterparts in ancient copan had only stone tools. the metates are worked into rough shape here at the quarry to make them easier to transport back to the village for finishing. the transport system is hardly hi-tech, but it is certainly more efficient
than what the ancient copan metateros had available. the maya carried everything on their backs because donkeys, horses, oxen and other beasts of burden did not exist here until the spanish brought them in the 16th century. what interests archaeologists most is that these modern metateros are also farmers, so they work at their craft only part-time. the ancient metateros may have done the same. filomeno gabriel mateo has only enough land to feed his family and a few animals. there is not enough to grow surplus produce to trade for other goods. interpreter: there's definitely not enough to sell,
but the harvest does provide enough for the chickens and even the donkeys. we go and get firewood, and the donkey must be in good condition. also, we raise pigs. we may sell a pig, and we also bring in money from the sale of chickens. keach: between farming chores, filomeno and his uncle edmundo make manos and metates part-time. anything filomeno can do to cut production costs would be to his advantage, even to the point of making some of his own tools.
production is just one aspect of specialization. another is distribution. filomeno must get his metates to market. the copan metateros faced a similar problem. for them, the solution was more difficult. an expert on ancient systems of transportation is ross hassig. mesoamerica had no wheels that were usable in any meaningful sense. they had no draft animals to pull a wheeled vehicle if they had had a wheeled vehicle. so all goods were taken in one of two ways -- by canoe or raft where there was water -- and except for the coastal areas, bodies of water that were navigable for any length of time were quite rare in mesoamerica. the typically, these porters were carrying approximately 50 pounds. now, you can, of course, carry more or you can carry less. but the more you carry,
the shorter the distance you can usually go. so 50 pounds was about average for long-distance, day-after-day carriage. keach: so for copan's metateros, the market potential was limited by technology. because they had to carry the stones to market on their backs, the market had to be close by. filomeno's problem is similar. although he can use a bus to get his metates to market, the cost of transportation must be added to the sale price. if filomeno transports his metates much beyond the neighboring market town, he must add the cost of a round-trip bus fare to the price. and this would make his metates too expensive. ten miles from filomeno's house is the town of tlacolula. market is held here once a week.
almost everything is sold by the actual producers or their families. weekly markets are one of the most ancient of economic institutions. today, sales involve cash. but until quite recently, most societies, like the ancient maya, depended on barter, so much of one commodity for so much of another. market at tlacolula is highly competitive. there's a large number of sellers for each product all in competition with each other, and all within sight of each other. and the buyers, also people from the countryside, are usually prudent with the little cash they have. almost every family here needs a metate, but metates tend to last and last. a housewife may replace a worn and broken one only once in her lifetime.
so the market for metates is limited. it has not been a good day for filomeno. he did not sell one metate or even a mano. others did better. but still, only three metates left the market on the backs of new owners. sanders thinks that like their modern counterparts in mexico, the copan metateros were also farmers. filomeno does not have enough land to be a full-time farmer, but in ancient copan, there was ample land, but of poor quality. the land at petapilla would barely sustain the family working it, so making metates part-time to supplement what they could grow made economic sense. sanders and his team have now found evidence
that other farmers around copan were also engaged in part-time manufacturing in specializations like lime making, pottery and woodworking. these part-time specializations are for sanders a sign that the economy of copan was taking the first steps toward complexity. sharing the sun with ancient copan was another city whose economy was so complex it became a wonder of the ancient world. that city was teotihuacan. teotihuacan -- founded more than 2,000 years ago. around a.d. 600, at the height of its power, this magnificent city held at least 125,000 people, five times the population of the entire kingdom of copan.
although contemporary with copan, teotihuacan was a separate civilization unto itself. located just northeast of modern mexico city, teotihuacan had enormous influence over all of mesoamerica. teotihuacan at its peak in the 8th century a.d. was the largest city in the new world. it's also one of the largest cities in human history before the industrial revolution. teotihuacan is also a unique archaeological site in a number of characteristics -- its architecture, and the size of that urban area. plus that fact that it is a supremely ordered and organized and planned community. keach: teotihuacan was an impressive model of urban planning. radiating from central avenues lined with pyramids and temples, teotihuacan contained more than 2,000 nearly identical house compounds. archaeologists now believe
the compounds also served as workshops. the unique design of the compounds created buildings which used public and private space efficiently. each compound housed 30 to 100 people. each was divided into four or more private apartments surrounding a common courtyard. here the teotihaucanos worked at their craft specializations like the making of clay figurines. thousands of such figurines have been found all over teotihuacan. archaeologists suspect that they had some kind of religious function, but are not sure what. it is curious that almost all were found broken and thrown away in the trash. archaeologist warren barbour is trying to figure out why. barbour: figurines were found primarily in refuse, i think, for a number of possible reasons. first, they may have lost their sanctity
and they had to be constantly replaced, so you just tossed them out. if they were used for a particular ritual, on a particular fiesta of a particular month, and then you'd -- sort of a planned obsolescence where they'd have to be replaced constantly. secondly, they may have been purposely broken. some of my colleagues believe that these were used and then purposely broken. and the other possibility, which sometimes i grip the bed at night thinking about, is that perhaps some of these are just toys and may have been -- um.person-handled by kids to the point that they break very easily. keach: barbour has discovered that many of the fragments were actually the parts of marionettes. their arms and legs would have been attached by string. large figures are called "hosts" because the body always contains one or more "guests" inside. archaeologists think that at first each family made their own figurines by hand.
but then, barbour discovered, an important change took place. barbour: between 250 and 350 a.d., the mold was introduced into figurine making in teotihuacan, slowly replacing handmade figurines completely. during the later part of the city's life, you have a combination often of handmade and moldmade together. but by the end, we have a type called the half-conical that are very elaborately painted representations of perhaps deities, and perhaps high-status individuals. keach: unlike the earlier versions, this figurine was completely moldmade. nevertheless, it is highly detailed, but only on the front. barbour: no care was taken in the manufacturing of the back after they were pressed into the mold. you can see nicks and dings, and often you find fingerprints
along the backs of these half-conical figurines. keach: these figurines may represent the first instance of mass production in the new world. the growth of the industry also symbolizes the growth of the city. archaeologists believe population size along with density has a critical effect on the economy of a city. once you get 90,000 people in one place, or 60,000 people in one place, then it has a self-generating kind of impact on its structure. all those people living here means that it's going to stimulate economic specialization. economic specialization itself then is going to change the character of the city. keach: was increased specialization actually changing life in teotihuacan ? warren barbour began to think the tiny faces would yield an answer. barbour: during my dissertation research, i occasionally would run across figurines that had fingerprints,
and they sort of added a humanity to my work, and i started looking for them, and they sort of brought me closer to the manufacturer of the print. i started wondering who he was, and i figured i would never be able to find that. and i started wondering whether or not i could find something else out about them. keach: barbour's curiosity led him to the modern science of fingerprints where he discovered that with a large enough sample he might be able to discern the gender of the person who made the print. males have wider ridges. females have narrower ones. through trial and error, he devised a technique to make permanent molds of the fingerprints. from these he began to construct a sample. finally, an intriguing discovery -- direct evidence that one set of workers was being replaced by another. barbour: it appears that the early handmade figurines were made by females.
after the establishment of apartment compounds in teotihuacan about 250 a.d., you get a shift to wider ridges on the late handmade figurines and the early moldmade figurines. so it appears that when you have the development of the apartment compound that males come into the industry. keach: so as the city grew, the figurine industry changed. initially worked by women, probably as part of their domestic duties, it became a separate full-time specialization performed by men. with men moving into industry and doing less farm work, how would the city be able to feed itself ? in copan, everybody farmed except the elite and their artisans. part of the answer is found in an elaborate system of irrigation, canals that helped the city
produce a large agricultural surplus. although most remained farmers, irrigation freed some 30,000 to 40,000 people to pursue other jobs like making clay figurines. but it was not clay sculpture that transformed teotihuacan into an economic superpower. it was another material -- obsidian, a natural volcanic glass whose edge was as sharp as a razor. obsidian was the knife of the ancient world. 30 miles north of teotihuacan, archaeologists have discovered the major source of obsidian in a place called pachuca. this is alejandro pastna of the mexican institute of anthropology and history,
and his colleague rafael cruz. they have come here to map the locations of ancient mines. let's go. [ glass crunching ] obsidian fragments litter the surface, the refuse of thousands of years of mining activity. the glass that formed here by nature was especially prized by the ancients because of a unique quality. interpreter: this obsidian was only formed in this deposit. most obsidian is black or gray, but the green and the golden green is only from this deposit. it has the finest grain and makes the best blades. but you have to go very deep to get it.
they were cut down on-site to what is called a "core". interpreter: this is the process for reducing the block. to get this. these were the cores that were transported to teotihuacan. keach: at teotihuacan, the cores were further processed into more uniform cylindrical shapes. blades were flaked off by pressure from a stick. in the hands of a skilled worker it was an efficient process. hundreds of blades could be produced in a short time. the distinctive green knife blades of teotihuacan have been found in the farthest corners of mesoamerica, including copan. teotihuacan must have been the center of a huge export business. the market was continuous because the blades came only from a few sources, and often wore out or broke.
the blades were also light and easy to carry, which was important at a time when everything had to be hauled on people's backs. so the obsidian producers of teotihuacan were able to reach large and distant markets easily. the economy of teotihuacan was much more complex than copan's. the city had many specialists with easy access to an enormous population of consumers within the city, plus an extensive export trade, all supported by efficient agriculture. but this economy could not expand much further, because all work had to be done by humans. it took 70% of the population just to feed the city. and transportation was still a problem. but in other ancient cities, almost everyone was a specialist,
and transportation was cheap and efficient. the imperial city of rome, a.d. 200. with a population approaching half a million, it was the center of the western world. rome's immense wealth flowed from a vast empire along the mediterranean sea. an amazingariety of goods came to rome by ship from spain, france, asia minor, north africa and egypt. transportation expert ross hassig. it was closer is terms of the cost of transportation to get to egypt than it was to get a hundred miles inland in italy. you couldn't bring food from a hundred miles inland to rome, because even with carts, even with oxen, it simply cost too much. so rome was able to tap into the production of other areas
because it was able to use ships where the cost of transportation was extremely low. keach: but roman seagoing merchant ships carrying upwards of a thousand tons were too large to navigate the tiber river, so cargos were unloaded onto smaller vessels downriver at the port city of ostia. ostia was once a bustling commercial city, with shops and restaurants... villas and apartment houses for merchants and shippers... theaters, parks and enormous warehouses crammed with every possible commodity. archaeologist amanda claridge. it's clear that the merchants, the many, many thousands of people involved in the supply of the city of rome who did base themselves in ostia -- all the transient ships' captains and the crews
and all the people who worked in the port and the supporting industries -- shipbuilding and so forth -- made ostia a very thriving city. keach: the economy of ostia was much more complex than teotihuacan's, and at the other end of the spectrum from copan. everyone in ancient ostia was a specialist, making or selling things or providing a service. in front of the theater, around the edges of what was once an enclosed park, shipping agents from cities all over the empire kept their offices. here they could meet customers, organize cargos and schedule their ships. each shipper was identified by a mosaic sign in the floor in front of his office. the sign may depict the cargo in which he specializes. these are wheat measures. or it could say where the shipper is from. this one is from turres, now sardinia.
the elephants are a symbol of the subratans from libya. efficient transport and specialization brought ostia's economy to a high level of complexity, and surely had a profound effect on people's lives and the character of their city. that effect can be easily seen today in a living city, a city like fez, morocco. archaeologists have come to fez because the same high degree of specialization suggested by the ruins of ostia can be seen here in the flesh. the population and density of the old city of fez has remained the same since the 10th century. archaeologist david webster. the old city of fez
had about 120,000 people for its total population. this would have been an equivalent of a population density of tens of thousands of people per square mile. now, the only reason why that was possible, especially in a nonindustrial context, was that you had a very effective agricultural environment around fez within, say, 15 or 20 miles radius. but you also had very effective forms of nonhuman transport -- donkeys, camels, horses, mules -- that could bring in all of the kinds of supplies that the city needed. now, that's one reason why you had such high population densities. one of the effects of really high population densities, of course, is to create very dense urban markets, lots of consumers concentrated in small spaces. and this is one of the reasons why fez has such a high degree of urban specialization. keach: as in ancient ostia, almost everyone in fez is a full-time specialist.
in the tanning industry alone, there are some 20 specialized activities required to process skins into leather. there are washers and hair removers, buyers and sellers, and transport specialists. there are even specialties within a specialty. there are people who handle the donkeys that bring skins into the market, while others handle the donkeys taking skins out. this is a hair removing factory. it is run by mr. abdelrrahman ovadghiri. interpreter: we get up early in the morning and go down to the market to buy skins. we give them to the workers. they wash the skin and bring it back to us.
we give it to the tanners who process it. that's how it goes, with god's help. thank god we live well. keach: the specializations of the tanners go back a thousand years. their technology has hardly changed in all that time. but because this is a living culture, it is possible to see firsthand the development of institutions like those that emerged in ostia 2,000 years ago. each morning, fresh skins are brought to this market to be sold to the city's tanners. once a deal is made between buyer and seller, the transaction is recorded by market officials.
the system reduces misunderstandings, but mainly it creates records for tax purposes. when an economy becomes this complex, it opens up more opportunities for the state to collect a percentage for itself. such complexity also increases the need t is the job of haaj abdelaziz sakkout. interpreter: if the brokers have a problem, they come to us. we all solve the problem. even if we fight first, we solve the problem. keach: mr. sakkout is employed by market officials. he occasionally serves as auctioneer if asked, but in the main, his job is to settle disputes.
everyone in the fez tanning industry is dependent upon others. the man who dries the finished skins cannot function without those who remove the hair, or without any of the other specialists in the trade. with so many dependent upon forces outside their control, new institutions inevitably develop. in fez, every specialty within the tanning industry has its own guild or craft association. the guilds serve their members by setting standards, restricting membership and controlling prices whenever possible. but perhaps more importantly, guilds represent the interests of their members before various authorities. sometimes this means catering to the public relation needs of the government. steward of the tanner's guild is sherrif mohamad alaoui.
interpreter: if the king is coming or if someone from america or france is coming, we are asked to go out and show our happiness, our appreciation that they come to see us. we go out, around a hundred of us, and we clap our hands and hit this piece of metal that we have. it is quite a show. you can really appreciate it. if the government needs the guild steward in some cases like that, they call him. that's the role of the guild steward. keach: archaeologists believe that in ancient ostia specialists also organized themselves into craft associations and guilds. the shipwrights, for example, had a large and active guild. these are the ruins of what is believed to have been their clubhouse. it was a magnificent building with a suite of dining rooms
arranged around a long, indoor fish pond that would have been lined with imported marble. claridge: the principal feature is this large, central court which provides ample space for all sorts of perhaps alfresco dining as well that they could actually put their couches out in the garden and dine outside. otherwise, there would be entertainments laid on -- dancing, music, reciting poetry, if they were a rather cultured guild. keach: besides elaborate social events, the guilds may have also served their members in other ways. ostia's craftsmen and merchants were often wealthy, but they were still confined to a fairly low position on the roman social ladder. so the shipwrights may have used their guild to seek the political influence their status would have normally denied them. in imperial rome, that meant figuring out some way to gain favor with the emperor. the associations often sought imperial patronage, presumably thought to be a great honor,
and probably a very signal honor in terms of also financial rewards in being able to get the emperor to recognize the guild or association, perhaps to give it gifts in terms of money or privileges. keach: and so the shipwrights apparently decided that a statue of the emperor trajan would be an appropriate addition to their clubhouse. ostia's complex economy had brought these shipwrights great wealth. an association with the emperor was designed to protect it. in contrast to simpler systems, economic power and even some political influence were now possible for a larger group than ever before. the evolution of economic systems carries with it an enormous impact on people's lives. copan may appear to be a complex city,
but in economic terms, it was a place of relative simplicity. it was run by a tiny elite who monopolized the best land and used its small surplus for their own benefit. teotihuacan was more a true city, where many craft specialists made products for a vast local and export market. the city's economy evolved to become the most complex in the new world. when transportation is efficient, an ancient city can seem almost modern. ostia was such a place -- a place where everyone was a specialist working in an economy that offered the opportunity for social mobility and the creation of wealth. today, archaeologists struggle to reconstruct the economies of the ancient world, because an economy is essential to any society, past or present.